Minnesota Department of Transportation

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May 20, 2021

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MnDOT invests in winter road safety by planting living snow fences on Hwy 12 in Atwater, Kerkhoven

WILLMAR, Minn. – MnDOT is installing living snow fences on U.S. Highway 12 near Atwater and Kerkhoven, in partnership with the Kandiyohi Soil and Water Conservation District. A living snow fence is made up of trees, shrubs, native grasses and/or wildflowers to trap snow as it blows across fields, piling it up before it reaches a bridge or roadway.
The bridges near Atwater and Kerkhoven were selected for living snow fence installations to counter the winter road hazard of blow ice. Blow ice forms on roadways and bridge decks when snow blows onto the surface and sticks. It melts and refreezes, creating icy patches.
In Atwater, 1,644 shrubs will be planted over 7,089 linear feet. In Kerkhoven, 1,131 shrubs will be planted over 4,823 linear feet. All work is being done within MnDOT’s existing right of way. The species of trees and shrubs chosen include black choke berry, amur maple, golden current, arrowwood, gray dogwood, common lilac, and red osier dogwood. The shrubs will offer blowing snow protection two to three years after planting.
MnDOT crews began site preparation May 3 and have assisted the SWCD with laying fabric and planting trees by machine on the lower tiers. J.L. Theis, a woman owned contractor from Jordan, Minn., is laying fabric and hand planting trees on the steeper slopes. Work is expected to wrap up the week of May 24, weather permitting.
Living snow fences at the Atwater and Kerkhoven bridges were designed by Steve Dols, West Central Region blowing snow control shared services designer, based in Willmar. Dols is working on twelve additional snow fence projects across west central and southwest Minnesota using highway safety funding.

“A living snow fence is more than landscaping and highway beautification, it serves a purpose,” said Dan Gullickson, blowing snow control shared services program supervisor. “We engineer blowing snow control using nature; we use plants to mitigate the wind.”
Living snow fences bring multiple benefits to a roadside, including the capacity to:

  • Prevent big snow drifts and icy roads
  • Improve driver visibility
  • Control soil erosion and reduce spring flooding
  • Lessen environmental impact with less salt use, fewer truck trips and less fuel consumption

For information on how MnDOT controls blowing and drifting snow through the use of snow fencing, contact Dan Gullickson at 651-366-3610, or visit mndot.gov/environment/livingsnowfence.